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Anti-corporate protests awakened activism in Cincinnati
by Darlene D'Agostino Monday, Dec. 25, 2000 at 1:35 AM Cincinnati

Cincinnati joined Seattle, Philadelphia, Washington, Minneapolis, Melbourne, Los Angeles and Prague this year, starting its own chapter in the movement against globalization of the economy. A few days before protesters in India stormed the headquarters of the World Trade Organization (WTO), demonstrators in Cincinnati marched on a conference of the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue (TABD).

Anti-corporate protests awakened activism in Cincinnati

By Darlene D'Agostino

Cincinnati joined Seattle, Philadelphia, Washington, Minneapolis, Melbourne, Los Angeles and Prague this year, starting its own chapter in the movement against globalization of the economy. A few days before protesters in India stormed the headquarters of the World Trade Organization (WTO), demonstrators in Cincinnati marched on a conference of the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue (TABD).

The buzz about globalization began to circulate in Cincinnati in September. Big players -- the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors' Bureau and the Partnership for Greater Cincinnati -- were thick into preparations for the TABD. This was a big deal. Fifteen U.S. cities competed to host the prestigious group of more than 130 of the largest U.S. and European corporations. The goal of TABD is to free trade across the Atlantic from excessive regulation.

After tens of thousands of protesters demonstrated against the WTO in Seattle 1999 -- and caused millions of dollars in damage -- Cincinnati Police Division bristled at the prospect of similar protests here against TABD.

It didn't happen that way. TABD claimed a successful meeting in a hospitable city Nov. 16-18. Hundreds of protesters came and claimed a successful awareness-raising campaign. Police, while praised by the city for a job well done, were criticized by others for provoking activists and violating constitutional rights.

But did the weekend of Nov. 16-18 make an impact? Did the protests accomplish anything? Did the police effectively balance the rights of protesters and public order?

The TABD came to life in 1995, created by the Clinton Administration and the European Union. An invitation-only trade association, TABD aims to make trade less of a headache.

A headache? In terms of free trade, government regulations are a migraine. The United States has one set of environmental, consumer and safety regulations. European nations have their own.

TABD sees government regulations as trade barriers. The TABD has a catchy motto: "Accepted once, approved everywhere." A chief aim of the organization is "harmonization" of business regulations, working toward adoption of a single set of rules applicable in each country.

Opponents of TABD see the group as puppeteer of the WTO. TABD -- a private, non-governmental organization-- advises WTO, which is made up of government representatives. WTO member countries have to accept the organization's rulings on fair-trade practices, essentially relinquishing the power to regulate corporations.

"It's a group of financial leaders talking about what kind of laws will benefit trade, which is profit," said Sister Alice Gerdeman, spokesman for Coalition for a Humane Economy (CHE) and coordinator of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Over-the-Rhine ("Taking the Bull Out of Globalization: Who's Afraid of the TABD," issue of Sept. 28-Oct. 4). "They have a real good track record of getting what they suggest, whether or not we have anything to say about it.

"What we object to is the concept that gives corporate policymaking influence over people's lives. It's a concept that says, 'We know how to fix your economies,' as the World Bank and the IMF do. It's the whole idea that what's good for profit is good, rather than what's good for people."

Most business and government leaders in Cincinnati welcomed the TABD.

"I don't think globalization is an awful thing at all," said Rene Thomas, international marketing manager for the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. "Cincinnati is the 20th largest exporting city in the United States ... TABD is a very useful tool, because it takes people with practical knowledge and discusses ways to make business easier and more appropriate for everyone."

'Riot gear' is such an ugly term

As the one-year anniversary of the Seattle protests approached, an ad ran in a Seattle alternative weekly, The Stranger. A proclamation with a bright yellow background bore the scarlet headline, "N30 International Solidarity Day Against Corporate Globalization." Cincinnati has been woven into the fabric of that movement. The events of N16, the moniker the Cincinnati protesters gave their demonstrations, were a success.

Events planned by the main organizing groups -- Cincinnati Direct Action Collective and Ohio Citizen Action -- went well, according to Rachel Belz, southwest Ohio program director for Ohio Citizen Action.

CHE, a group of labor unions, community activists, environmentalists and human-rights advocates, came together to work for economic justice. The TABD conference was tailor-made for the new coalition.

CHE lists its accomplishments on its Web site, N16 highlighted globalization issues at a teach-in attended by more than 500 people. CHE events attracted extensive press coverage via independent, alternative and mainstream media, including CNN.

CHE also did what it intended to do -- protest peacefully for three days in a series of rallies, pickets and marches. New relationships with groups and individuals across the country were established. Protesters did not lash out at police, and property damage was contained to minor spray painting and three broken windows.

Most importantly, N16 showed the anti-globalization movement is growing and the TABD knows it has a formidable force to deal with, Belz says.

"The next step will be to address what the focus of (CHE) will be now and what structures are needed," Gerdeman says. "We learned a lot. Most of us were used to doing demonstrations, but not in such a large framework. We became aware of the complexities in bringing together different groups who have different models of what protest is."

In dealing with police, Gerdeman says the group learned about communication. Last week, CityBeat reported on poor communication between organizing groups and police. That miscommunication led to accusations of bad faith by each side. Fifty-two people were arrested in connection with protests.

But Gerdeman, Belz and CHE are encouraged by what they saw. Now Cincinnati is part of a worldwide movement that allows those involved to look across generational and philosophical lines and work together.

Whether the city feels the same is unclear. After numerous attempts to reach City Manager John Shirey, CityBeat was finally referred to Cincinnati Police Lt. Col. Richard Janke, assistant chief in charge of TABD planning. When asked to describe the city's experience during the TABD, Janke said he could not speak for the city.

"I would imagine that at any point, the city would refer you to the police division," Janke says. "From the police division's point of view, it was an experience with positive and negative aspects."

Janke declined further detail until the police department finishes its after-action report, a collection and synthesis of data due early next year.

Within days of the protests' conclusion, Mayor Charlie Luken praised police for doing a good job. District 1 Commander Capt. Vince Demasi said he was very satisfied with how police handled the protests ("Failure to Communicate," issue of Dec. 14-20).

The division spent almost two years planning for N16, but the weekend experienced some less-than-shining moments because the division was not prepared for unplanned events, Demasi says. He contends CHE should have identified troublemakers to police.

Police clashed with demonstrators on four occasions during the three-day protest ("Black and Blue," Nov. 22-29). The division reluctantly used tear gas and made arrests to protect the public, Demasi says. But protesters only became more militant as police provoked them, according to CHE Chairman Steve Schumacher.

The fact is no one knew what to expect, who would come to the protests or how many. Communication broke down when police and protesters feared the worst. Police feared demonstrations would turn violent; protesters feared police would overreact.

A week before the protests, Gerdeman said she couldn't control who might come to town. Meanwhile, Internet discussions of N16 included throwing paint balls at riot masks so officers would be exposed to their own gas and throwing ball bearings on the street if officers gave chase.

"We are, not to be dramatic, waging a brief war," one activist said via e-mail. "That is, think of the Cincy experience tactically. We are going to attempt to converge on and occupy space in a public demonstration against the TABD. The police are going to use violence to try to stop us."

In September, calls about the Cincinnati Police Division's preparedness were referred to the commander of the SWAT team.

The city's Law and Safety Department has not yet released information on the number of officers used during TABD and the cost to the city. The police division was equally uninformative with organizing groups.

"We want to make sure they're not getting ready for trouble they're not telling us about," Schumacher said before the protests. "We have asked repeatedly to explain what their preparations are, and they've not done that. We want the dialogue to be upfront and very frank. We want very clear rules of engagement on protests."

The police division consistently played down the protests beforehand. Janke stated police planned no road closings. Despite reports from street officers that confirmed they would be in riot gear, Demasi told reporters the day before the protests that officers had no plans to use riot gear. But, at the first scheduled rally on Nov. 16, the SWAT team was on hand and officers manned streets in "protective gear."

Demasi denies misleading the press.

"This concept of riot gear is really inaccurate," he says. "It's protective equipment. The fact that a person has a helmet -- it does not give you the ability to do anything any differently. The only thing that it provides is some protection for your head from bricks, bottles and cans. The same with pads -- it doesn't allow you to be more offensive or aggressive; it provides more protection to you when working in large hostile crowds that tend to throw objects."

Next come the commercials

N16 had an impact. Cincinnati is now recognized as not only a corporate town but as a place where political activism exists.

"I would hope that one would look at the city and say, 'Wow! There are people there who really care,' " Belz says. "For people to compare Cincinnati to Seattle is even more hopeful. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere."

The direct impact N16 had on the city is still taking shape. Complaints against police actions have been filed with the Ohio Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, according Jill Davis, the Cleveland office's staff counsel.

"We're looking into it," she says. "I can't make a statement right now, but we're looking to see what happened and to see if we need to take action."

The TABD feels its meeting went extremely well, says Jeff Werner, spokesman for the organization.

"Cincinnati worked out great," Werner says. "We expected and embraced the protests. It was good. It created good dialogue. The people were noticed, and their concerns were acknowledged. The police did a really thorough and good job of allowing things to continue."

The lesson for TABD, WTO and other international economic organizations?

"Business has to do a better job of telling people why it thinks globalization is a good thing," Werner says.

Marketing is everything.

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